Come Landfall: A Novel

Come Landfall: A Novel

by Roy Hoffman

Hardcover(1st Edition)

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The worlds of three women and the men they love come together in this novel of war and hurricanes, loss and renewal. Christiane, or Nana, reliving the past in her eighties, her granddaughter Angela, working at a Biloxi casino in her twenties, and their teenage friend Cam, the daughter of a Vietnamese shrimper, form a deep connection. As they face heartbreak, their bonds nurture and sustain them. Ordinary people impacted by the shifts of history—Come Landfall is a southern story with a global sensibility.

The Gulf Coast serves as more than just a setting—it is a character unto itself. With casinos lining one side of the highway, antebellum homes along the other, and a Vietnamese neighborhood up the road, here the old South collides with the new. From households along this stretch of US 90, lineages and emotional connections stretch all over the world.

Inspired by true events, Roy Hoffman’s novel has its seeds in the saga of his uncle, Maj. Roy Robinton, US Marine Corps, a WWII prisoner of war in the Philippines who disappeared as captive on a Japanese “hellship.” His young bride, back home, was ground down, waiting.

Christiane returns in her mind to the man she married at twenty-one—Rosey, a flyer with the Army Air Corps who was in the Philippines at the outbreak of WWII. Angela meets Frank, an airman at Keesler Air Force base who is proudly patriotic, deeply religious, and a student of weather. Cam falls in love with Joe, a Biloxi cop, and her own tumultuous story begins to interweave with that of Angela’s and Nana’s. What’s taken from Nana, Angela, and Cam (and so many others when storms make their landfall), what’s given back, and what’s kept forever sit at the heart of this
intimate yet expansive novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817318307
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 04/08/2014
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Roy Hoffman is author of the novels Almost Family, winner of the Lillian Smith Award, and Chicken Dreaming Corn, endorsed by Harper Lee. He is the author of two essay collections, Back Home: Journeys Through Mobile and Alabama Afternoons: Profiles and Conversations. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Fortune, Southern Living, and the Mobile Press-Register, where he was a long-time staff writer. A graduate of Tulane, he received the 2008 Clarence Cason Award from the University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences. He teaches for Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing Program.

Read an Excerpt

Come Landfall

A Novel


The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2014 Roy Hoffman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8753-2


Stardust Melody

When rain whipped the harbor windows of the Cotton Gin Casino, Angela looked up from her serving tray, past the hectic slots and feverish dice tables, and pictured Nana in her room at Coastal Arms. A few miles from where she carted orders of bourbon and gin, her grandmother sat at the assisted living facility wringing her hands with every uptick of wind. Tropical Storm Isidore, strengthening into a hurricane, was the third monster that year to taunt the Mississippi coast. Sixty-five-mile-per-hour winds would hardly close the casino down—party mania took hold and slots pumped faster—but every blow threatened to become Noah's flood to Christiane and her neighbors.

Angela's phone buzzed in her pocket: Nana or Max, an anxious grandmother or a surly musician boyfriend, one of them bound to get her fired. Four o'clock: an hour left on her shift. She kept on toting drinks.

"Hey, Angela"—it was Chip, the blackjack dealer on a break, always nudging—"be at Rudy's Club tonight?"

"Stick with cards."

Last weekend at Rudy's he'd danced so close she'd recoiled from his breath.

"Could be your last chance," Chip said. "We might all be blown to hell this time tomorrow."

"Send me a postcard," she said.

She felt the wind in her bones, no matter that five feet of reinforced concrete stood between her and the elements. She'd been born in a storm, graduated Biloxi High under a tornado threat, and spent the worst six months of her life in the aftermath of Helene. She still could not drive that street by Back Bay paralleling the coastal road.

The all-night couple in Hawaiian shirts and sandals, the plastic model on the arm of a loud Texan, the lovebirds necking by deuces wild video poker—around her the casino-goers carried on with glee.

Out the window, heavy gusts churned the shrimp boats hurrying in to harbor.

She took a screwdriver order from the Hattiesburg sisters, regulars at the nickel slots, and headed back to the kitchen.

When her phone rang again, she fished it out.

"Where are you?" Nana said.

"Earning my keep. Be there soon."

"I've lost my pocketbook," Nana said.

"We'll find it, don't worry."

"The lady said this was my pocketbook, but I think she took it. This one isn't mine."

"Well, I'll talk to her when I get there!"

"You're not out driving in the storm, are you?"

"No, no, I'm safe and dry."

"Thank the Lord."

"And you are, too," Angela said.

"The girl's playing piano," Nana said.

"We'll get her to play your song. Gotta go. Love ya."

"I love you, my Angel."

The Coastal Arms folks were staying put through this one. Under threat of a Category 2 last summer, management had loaded up the residents to transport them to Meridian. Nana had sat by a window in the bus, waving Angela good-bye like she was a girl going off to camp. When they returned in two days, weather dissipated, Nana was as frazzled as if she'd been lashed to a mast.

Angela watched two young men in USAF sweatshirts—airmen from Keesler, no doubt—swagger by while girls she worked with spotted them like birds of prey. Brandy, a leggy Tennessean, took out after the taller one with her drink tray.

Musicians and artists, waiting tables or pumping gas at the docks, were more Angela's domain. Or at least the curly-headed boy in poli sci at Gulf Coast Community College who'd pronounced himself "a lefty," a term she hadn't heard since her dad's day.

She loaded up her tray, did the rounds, smiling appreciatively as customers stuck bills in her tip glass. She jotted down orders, trudged the last of what she figured was at least five miles. Free booze, loose wallets—that was the equation.

In her three months she had been amid constant motion. Only yesterday had been different.

There had been a moment of silence at 7:46 A.M., that moment—8:46 in New York—that the first plane had hit the Twin Towers a year before. Having just started her shift, Angela had seen all-night partyers, Yankees in muumuus, breakfast buffet regulars in flip-flops, all pause and bow their heads. The machinery of the casino had whirred on, the flashing lights and slot machine bells, but everyone was motionless at their places like a playland of mannequins. Then "America" sounded over the loudspeakers, followed by a Rebel yell and the vow, joined by raised fists, "They'll pay for this!"

Nana had called her twice during the flyover from Keesler, worried there were bombers overhead. "It's okay, Nana," she had reassured her. "It's remembrance and prayers."

Finishing up her rounds, she filled out her time card, tallied her tips—four times what she had made on the graveyard shift at Krispy Kreme—changed into her jeans and blouse, and started out the door. The fitful rain had eased a moment.

She dashed to her Corolla, entered the flow of traffic on Highway 90, and took off west.

The heavy oaks that usually leaned down like well-wishers at the end of her shift gyrated like souls possessed. The Biloxi Lighthouse was a ghost ship in the shrouded light. As she passed the fake galleon of PiratesPlunder, then the antebellum home of Father Ryan, poet-priest of the Confederacy, her phone flashed Max's name.

She flipped it open. "You know you're catching me on the highway this time of day."

"Isidore's already turning," he said.

"You'd love me to go off the road."

"You know I care for you."

"By how you treated me the other night at Rudy's? With that dumpy teen hanging all over you between sets?"

"I've got fans."

"I've got a life!"

"I'm in my garage," he said.

How many evenings she had perched on a stool in the corner of that garage while Max's band practiced, charmed by his stubby fingers walking the frets of his gleaming guitar. The weekend before, when he had touched them to her neck, she had drawn back, as if they were talons.

"I wrote you a song," he said through the howling.

"I'm headed to Nana's."

"I was going to ask you about her."

"Play it for your favorite asshole. You." She snapped the phone shut.

At moments like this, she felt she might fly, pressing the accelerator harder and lifting her car's nose into the sky. She thought of Dorothy, spun from Kansas in a stupendous tornado.

But then there was Nana.

Pulling into a service station to top off her tank, she got in line—part of the pre-storm excitement, like scouting for "D" batteries—and glanced at the picture of Nana and Lucky in her wallet: Miami Beach, the Fontainebleau Hotel, granddad in his powder blue jacket, Nana in her rose crepe dress, posing between fox-trots for a photographer's flash. How she missed Lucky. He'd be proud of her for filling the tank.

She came alongside Jefferson Davis's historic home with its civil war veterans cemetery somber beneath the dancing trees, then turned into Coastal Arms.

On the side patio, in ponchos together like castaways, cuddled General Sam Wheeler and Francie Holcombe, who'd "fallen in love," as Nana explained it, after meeting in the antiseptic hallways.

"Isidore's a pussycat!" roared Wheeler to Angela as he peered from beneath the bill of his cap. "Camille was a five, Frederic a four, now that's power. I've flown missions through ones bigger than this puff on the horizon."

"But we've got to be cautious, dear," said Francie, who patted his hand.

"I'm not camping out with a bunch of sissies in the TV room," he said.

"I'm a sissie," said Francie.

"You'll be fine, I'll make sure of that," said Wheeler, pulling her closer. Francie smiled and leaned into him.

"How's my Nana today?" Angela said as she headed to the entrance.

"Christiane loves it when those C-130s pass overhead," said Wheeler. "She's been going on about the war ever since."

Inside, attendants were putting masking tape on windows and a few residents were watching a Weather Channel announcer with gale force winds scrambling her hair. From the social hall came the booming sound of a piano, the entertainment of the afternoon still on schedule.

"Hello, Angela," said Maria Torres, a caretaker. "Your Nana will be happy to see you. This makes her muy emocionada, very, you say, excited."

"What's the latest?"

"No more moving to Meridian like last time. Dios mío."

As Angela passed down the hallways, she saw a chronicle of Nana's year-long habitation—the peg board with photos of last spring's Mardi Gras parade for residents, the Fourth of July festivities a couple of months ago. One section said, "Birthdays!" with Christiane Fields listed at February 16. At last year's party, for Nana's eighty-third, they'd enjoyed caramel cake and lactose-free ice cream. Angela had joined them to sing "Happy Birthday," then Nana and Lucky's theme song, "Over the Rainbow," afterward holding her as she sobbed in her room.

"How beautiful to care for somebody like that," she had said as she stroked Nana's hair.

How easily she could imagine being back in her grandparents' antebellum house with its double porches looking out to the Mississippi Sound, going to the second floor with its family portraits, seeing Nana pop out of her bedroom to greet her—petite, beaming, drying her short silver hair with a towel while reporting how she'd just bested Lucky in tennis or gotten back from a frolic in the Sound. In her seventies then, she was still capable of a smooth fox-trot with Lucky at the Broadwater Hotel, even a sexy tango.

"Anybody home?" she called outside Nana's door. She peeked in at a slight, disheveled woman facing the window.

Without turning around, Nana waved her in. "Come here, quick."

Angela walked up beside her. Seagulls hurtled and leaves rained down on the Jefferson Davis property, the sign at its entrance, "Beauvoir," pelted by rain. The Mississippi Sound was a canvas of turbulent paint.

Angela bent down and kissed her cheek. "It's kind of pretty, don't you think?"

"Did you hear the airplanes?"

"They're those big ol' Hurricane Hunters," Angela said. "Just heading home to Keesler. General Wheeler told me so."

"Not dive-bombers?"

"Everything's okay!"

"Really?" She turned and looked at her granddaughter, a hopeful aspect in her faded blue eyes. How bright Nana's eyes had been gazing up at her during her ninth grade dance recital, or as she received her high school diploma.


"Oh, good," Nana said, standing up. Her bracelet, a gold loop she'd worn as long as Angela could remember, slid low on her wrist. "You've put me at ease."

"Max is out of my life," she said.

"Which boy was he?"

"We came to visit last week, remember? The guitar player?"

"Oh, that one!" She shook her head. "I saw the way he looked at you. He was after one thing."

"Oh, Nana, it's not like that anymore."

"Since when!"

Angela laughed.

"You're not working too hard, are you?"

"No, my job's cool."

"Just remember who we are and what we stand for." Nana made a circling motion with her hand. "Let me have a look-see."

Angela spun. "A beautiful young lady," Nana pronounced, holding out her arms.

Even though Angela towered over her, her grandmother's hug, tight around her waist, made her feel protected as a child again.

"Here," said Angela, angling Nana to the side of the bed and sitting her there. "Let's fix you up."

From the side table she picked up the silver brush engraved "CF" and began to draw it through the fine-spun silver hair. "I love the name 'Christiane,'" Angela said, brushing slowly. "If I have a little girl one day, that's what I'll name her. Promise."

"Listen!" Nana exclaimed.

Through the noise of the wind came the far-off piano music. The notes rose and drifted, lost in the storm's churning, then coming back again like the swooping gulls.

"That's our song!" said Nana.

"That's not 'Over the Rainbow.'"

"Where's my scarf?"

Angela took one of the scarves off the peg on the door. "Lemme," she said, putting it around her grandmother's neck. "The red gives you nice color."

"Who said anything about 'Over the Rainbow'?" Nana said.

"Nana, you know your song was 'Over the Rainbow.' We used to sing it with Lucky.

They played it when you got married."

"And you know what I know?" Nana reached up and pushed Angela's hand away. "This hurricane," she said, her voice turned flinty, "can blow us all to hell as far as I'm concerned."


"Give me my brush back." She stood and grabbed at the brush.

"Here, it's yours."

"I hear the planes, and I hear the song, and I'm not a liar. If that's what you think, then just leave me alone. Go on." She pointed to the door. "Good-bye."

"Nana," Angela pleaded, "don't be like that."

"Well, I need my pocketbook. Somebody took my pocketbook."

Angela found it on the doorknob inside the closet. She handed it to Nana, who peered inside, went to the bureau and put in her lipstick, and slung the bag over her shoulder.

"Come on," Angela said, slipping her arm through Nana's and leading her to where the music cascaded down the hall, "let's just be like we used to."

Cam Nguyen leaned into the tired piano at Coastal Arms, summoning what she could from its beat-up keys. So much for the Bach two-part inventions she loved to race her fingers through, or the Chopin waltzes she rode deliriously like the roller coaster at the fair. In the three weeks she'd been playing at Coastal Arms for tenth grade community service credit, she'd learned a host of antique songs at the behest of the social director, who'd handed her a music book with pretty titles such as "Misty," "Autumn Leaves," and "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You." Cam had gotten annoyed at first when the residents gathered around and drowned out her notes singing like gray-haired drunks. But Daddy had told her: "To put happiness in the heart of an old person is to honor the wise."

"Stardust" made her think of Daddy, out on the Miss Mai with no company but cousin Thanh, who preferred whistling over talk, and a ship-to-shore radio that crackled with tiresome noise. The song's images—purple dusk, climbing stars, lonely nights—could apply to a man on a shrimp boat, too. Hurting for his late wife; bone-tired from five days on the Gulf; hurrying for some far-off harbor to ride out another bothersome hurricane—she pictured Daddy far away. "Quan Am," Cam prayed silently to the Bodhisattva she loved, "keep Daddy safe from this storm."

She began another stanza of "Stardust." How her music brightened old Mr. Smith with his glass lenses as thick as paperweights, and the skinny woman with long white hair, as long as a college student's, falling snowily over her shoulders, and the "newlyweds," as she thought of them—General Wheeler and Mrs. Holcombe—who sometimes held each other and fox-trotted.

And here came Mrs. Fields, too, snapping her fingers as if she were a girl again. Escorting her, as usual, was her granddaughter. Angela had pretty hair—brown, curly—and the faintest freckles on her nose. Cam's Laotian friend, Khampou, twenty-one, had gone gambling at the Cotton Gin and seen Angela working there. "She's got nice, strong legs," he'd wolfishly said. Was Angela trashy? Cam wondered. Did she do things to men for money?

Cam finished "Stardust" and began her last song of the hour as the winds roared overhead. "Satin Doll," it was called, and it reminded her of a cute little doll that sat on the couch at her mother's manicure shop, put there for little girls to play with while their mothers got their nails done.

Knuckles rapped on the piano. She looked up. It was Mrs. Fields.

"Why did you stop?" the old woman asked.


"Why did you stop playing?"

"Nana," said Angela, "let the girl finish the song."

"What's your name, child?"

"Cam Nguyen," she answered, her hands still moving over the keys.

"When what?"

"Nguyen," Cam said, spelling it out. "It sounds like 'When.'"

"Play the one you just did."

"The 'Stardust' song?"

"Yes, that one."

Francie Holcombe, leaning in at the door, protested: "Don't you be trying to tell us what music to hear."

Cam quickly wrapped up "Satin Doll" and moved back into "Stardust," and Mrs. Fields started swaying to the music. Cam thought of an old movie she had watched with her mother in the nail shop, reclining on the couch during her break with the smell of nail polish thick in the air. A couple in the movie had danced to music like this; she imagined Mrs. Fields as the woman.

Mrs. Fields halted, opened her eyes wide as though startled by a ghost. "Stop. Please."

Cam had only reached the first refrain.

"Stop, I ask you!"

The wind was bellowing. Cam's hands froze on the keys. Nana reached to her neck and undid the scarf, held it out, and let it drop over Cam's wrists.

"You dropped your scarf, ma'am."

"It's a gift."

"Nana," said Angela, "it's a Hermès."

"I've got too many of the damn things. Let the girl have it."

Cam's heart beat to the rising wind.

"I'll take it," Angela said.

"Put it on," Nana commanded.

A long silence was filled by rattling overhead.

"Fine, fine," Angela relented, nodding to Cam. "Whatever makes her happy."

Cam slipped it around her neck, feeling the silk slide against her throat.

"Oh," Nana said, "it suits you!"

Cam nodded, mumbled "Thank you," and gathered up her music. It was time to get home before she got caught here in the storm, stranded in this hotel of crazy ancients.

Alone in her room after dinner, Christiane looks out to see no airplanes in the agitated darkness, their lights blinkered out by the turbulent night. But far overhead, she knows, they churn above the clouds, the roar of their engines rising.


Excerpted from Come Landfall by ROY HOFFMAN. Copyright © 2014 Roy Hoffman. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

I. Nana's Soldier
1. Stardust Melody
2. Men in Uniform
3. At First Sight
4. Surrender
5. Foreign Correspondence
6. Out of the Blue
II. Feet Planted, Sand Caving
7. Over the Threshold
8. Hidden Voices
9. Farewell
III. The Roaring Wave
10. Counting the Days
11. A Rising Wind
12. Blow the House Down
13. Nightwatch
14. An Outside Hand
IV. Heavy Weather Blues
15. Heart's Destination
16. Journey of Return
17. Hold Me Tight
18. Double Play
19. Never Let Me Go
20. From the Sea


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